When we teach about cursing in our coven, we tell students that if they feel that doing the curse is right in their soul and that they are completely willing to take the consequences if they are wrong, then they should go ahead. We also teach that if there is any doubt at all or any trepidation about taking the consequences, then they should wait for awhile or not do it at all. The other recommendation we typically give is that the object of your curse, especially if you are utilizing a Spirit (be it deity, demon, ghost, or angel), should always have an “out”: a chance to change and stop doing what you ended up cursing them for. This is the greater compassion because no one needs to be punished for eternity when they realize that they have done something wrong and decide to work to change it.
What does this have to do with social justice?
There are many social justice activists that don’t allow for people to change. They don’t allow for people to make mistakes and learn from them. In their minds, there is no room for someone to have a change of heart if they’ve done something wrong in the past. They did or said something that was racist, sexist, homophobic, etc in the past and that’s it. They are branded for life as “bad people” and are not given the chance to atonement.
Now, are there people who just won’t learn and refuse to change? Of course! There are some people that no matter how hard you try to educate them or tell them that they are doing hateful and bigoted things, they won’t change at all. It would take a miracle to make them see the harm that they are doing.
But there are those who know they’ve done wrong and try and change. There’s a tendency in social justice circles to default to “eternal damnation” when someone makes a mistake. There is no “out” or chance for that person to atone for their transgression or to learn what they did wrong. And for some social justice people, even when you do have a change of heart and try to atone, nothing you do will ever be good enough. For some people it may take them years, or a lifetime, to undo the mistakes they’ve done. For others, it might be more of a matter of apology for an immediate mistake made. Yet, there are plenty of social justice activists out there who will decide that a person’s change of heart may not be genuine enough or that they won’t trust someone because of what they’ve done in the past, no matter how hard the subject of their ire has tried to atone for their bad behavior.
I can’t deny that I’ve done this myself. A lot of the time it comes down to the fact that I want to be right when I think that someone is wrong. But I’ve been learning in my work and thinking about radical inclusion that it is important to allow for others to grow because not everyone has the education or experiences that I do. I’ve learned that there are people, including myself, who will say or do stupid things out of ignorance (and boy, have I done some really stupid things in social justice circles). I have had things pointed out to me that have made me feel bad for having done said stupid things. However, I’ve been lucky that I’ve had patient people around me who not only helped me learn, but allowed me to atone for what I’ve done wrong. This has made me want to be a better ally.
Unfortunately, absolutism happens in all levels of social justice work, and transcends whatever marginalization someone is. Are there histories, atrocities, and systemic injustice that needs to be acknowledged by those who make the mistakes? Of course. But we can’t forget the humanity of the people involved: our own humanity, and those of the people who we are trying to reach. Those of us who work for social justice should let our passion and emotions around our issues be known and visible, but if we disregard the humanity of those who we are trying to teach and don’t allow for their growth, how much are we really going to change? And, more importantly, if we completely dismiss the work that someone has done to grow, learn, and change, why are we doing social justice work in the first place?